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Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. (iWN file photo)
Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. (iWN file photo)
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By *Jomo Sanga Thomas

(“Plain Talk” March 1, 2024)

Beginning today, SVG will play host to the Eight Summit of Heads of State and Governments of CELAC at Sandals Beaches Resort in Buccament Bay. Coming as it does a mere three months after hosting the Argyle initiative that lowered political and military tensions between Guyana and Venezuela and three years after serving as the smallest country to ever sit on the UN Security Council, diplomatically, SVG can truly be said to be punching above its weight class.

CELAC groups 33 Latin American and Caribbean countries. Only the USA and Canada are denied membership. It was formed in 2011 to counter the American-dominated Organization of American States (OAS). Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez played a crucial role in articulating the aims and goals of CELAC. The organisation was created to deepen Latin American integration and to reduce the influence of the United States on the politics and economics of the Americas.

These events shine a bright light on Gonsalves, providing him with a big stage and large audience to highlight his vision to the region and the world. He lives for these types of events. The tailwind of the stoplight pulls SVG along. The truth is that the glitter shines brightest beyond the border of our nation of 100,000 people.

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Most Vincentians view the event with a sigh, if not a yawn, especially as they witness the speed with which much-needed road work and patching are being done. Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves almost strained himself during the Feb. 23 session of Parliament, explaining the increase in activity in preparation for the summit.

“The road repairs being done across the country are not for the benefit of people arriving for the summit. It is inappropriate to suggest that those form part of the CELAC bill any more than the road being repaired in Calliaqua form part of the CELAC bill or, the roads being repaired in Fair Hall form part of the CELAC bill, or the roads being repaired in the Marriaqua Valley form part of the CELAC bill. So, I think that it would be disingenuous to suggest that it is for the CELAC benefit.”

He admitted that events like the CELAC summit cost taxpayers since there are no grants and loans that a country can derive from being a member.  He disclosed that $1.5 million was earmarked in the 2024 budget for the summit. However, any keen observer is bound to conclude that the financial burden of this summit is way beyond that budgeted.

The father-and-son team famously and frequently contradicts each other. In the parliamentary session, Camillo said the road from Duncan Furniture Store at Buccament to the Sandals Resort cost $1.7 million. Three weeks ago, PM Gonsalves listed the cost at $3 million. What’s the actual cost? Is SVG developing a grifter problem?

Finance Minister Camillo Gonsalves justifies the spending by pointing to the global spotlight that shines on SVG. He offered up our country’s seat on the UN Security Council in 2020. “The benefits that we have attained and achieved are apparent to those willing to take the time to look because there is a correlation between our own activism and some of the advancements that we have enjoyed in recent years, but it is not our place to put a cost-benefit analysis of that nature on those investments.”

No one can deny the feel-good moment of the nation’s elevation to the UN Council. But too much cannot be made of it. Gonsalves spoke of benefits “attained and achieved” but pointed to none. Truth be told, it’s difficult to identify a single tangible benefit that touches and concerns the vast majority of citizens.

Interestingly, Ellsworth John, our nation’s ambassador to Cuba, said that our country gets numerous benefits from hosting the CELAC summit. One reads his comments in vain for what the benefits might be.

Clearly, Sandals is the big winner here. By housing the presidents and prime ministers from over 20 countries, it gets a significant financial boost even before it officially opens. Other hotels also make some money as delegates from across the region cannot all stay at Sandals. Some governments may go for the cheaper hotel rates.

The nation benefits from the neo-liberal economic concept of trickle-down. Road cleaners, truckers, taxi drivers and others who might have been unemployed make a few dollars as the government prepares to host the event. However, the Spectacle at Buccament will come and go with little or no impact on the nation’s economy or the people.

Gonsalves is the primary beneficiary. He gets yet another trophy for his highly decorated mantlepiece. He is a grand master of both statecraft and stagecraft. Expect him to use the CELAC summit to jump to the next big event, possibly the general elections. For those who allowed him to rule over the country for the last quarter century, they get the opportunity to sit back and ask, what’s in this for me and my children?

*Jomo Sanga Thomas is a lawyer, journalist, social commentator and a former senator and Speaker of the House of Assembly in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

The opinions presented in this content belong to the author and may not necessarily reflect the perspectives or editorial stance of iWitness News. Opinion pieces can be submitted to [email protected].

5 replies on “Gonsalves’ extravaganza”

  1. Call it self grandiosement. As the calypsonian says we have little to show. An election gimmick.

  2. I agree with Mr. Thomas’s observation that Gonsalves is a master of statecraft and stagecraft, and often he must be left to ” do his thing” on his stage” for the period while the play lasts. He ought to bear in mind though the other observation attributed to Gordon K. Lewis in his seminal work “the Growth of the Modern West Indies” (1968) which was recently quoted by Dr. Adrian Fraser in one of his weekly articles. Lewis likened the Caribbean electorate to “darkened theatre” audiences observing the antics of the “players on the stage”. The trouble with these players on the stage is that they are so often taken up with recalling their lines and acting out on the stage, that they cannot really see into the “dark” of the audience, and so cannot really really gage the impact of their antics on and response of the broad audience to them, especially when they have packed the front row where the stage lights sign with their own “applaudists” (some will say “apologists”). They may think that they have done so well on the stage, but they have not seen the bulk of the audience in the back of the hall laughing at them. So for all Gonsalves mooted brilliance, just perhaps the time has now come when he j
    might be “dazzling himself with that brilliance”, as the late Dr. Kenneth John pointed out some time ago. Nuff said at this point.

  3. Urlan Alexander says:

    All this is so true Jomo…our nation reminds me of the band that continues to play while the titanic sank.

  4. Jomo do sense a form of bitterness? Did you not have the opportunity to bring the government down? There are four things that come not back and one of is a neglected opportunity. Jomo hold your horses as my grand mother used to say.

  5. Take warning says:

    Have money for all other things, except for putting medication in the hospital ? Imagine prescribing an extra intravenous meds for my nephew and told the father to leave it for donation, why ? Can anyone understand that? I went myself for it and it’s in my medicine cabinet. What a. place.

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